Orlando Furioso: Punishment, and an imposter caught out

Guido Reni (1575–1642), Encounter of Bradamante and Fiordispina (c 1632-35), oil, dimensions not known, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

Orlando has discovered that his beloved Angelica – who disliked him intensely – had married Medoro, and is driven to madness as a result. He tore his armour and clothes off, abandoned his precious sword, and started uprooting trees with his bare hands.

Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901), Orlando Furioso (1901), oil and tempera on wood, 103 x 150 cm, Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig, Germany. Image by sailko, via Wikimedia Commons.

Shepherds are drawn to the great noise that Orlando is generating as he rips up woods. When one of them approaches, Orlando tears his head from his body, then swings his corpse like a club at the others, killing another two of them. The shepherds understandably retreat.

Daniel Berger (1744-1824), Plate 8 for Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’ (1772), etching, 9.1 x 5.1 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA. Wikimedia Commons.

When Orlando starts killing their flocks and cattle, everyone around drops what they’re doing to climb onto a rooftop to watch. In a nearby town, a force of a thousand is raised immediately to put a stop to this destruction, but the paladin slaughters them too, until they all run for their lives. Soon the countryside around him is deserted, as people and animals flee. He travels through France like this, until he reaches a tower by a broad river.

After Orlando had left Zerbino, the Prince of Scotland waited before choosing a different route with his love Isabella. They then come across a knight with his hands and feet tied up being carried on a horse, escorted by two knights in armour. Isabella recognises the prisoner as Odorico, into whose care she had been entrusted by Zerbino. The two guards recognise Isabella, stop, dismount, and pay their respects to the prince. It turns out that the two were the other survivors of the shipwreck with Isabella and Odorico: Almonio and Corebo.

Almonio then tells their story following the shipwreck. When Almonio returned from being sent by Odorico to La Rochelle and discovered his colleagues had gone, he followed their footsteps. Those led into a dark wood, where he found the wounded Corebo, but couldn’t find any trace of the others. Fearing that Corebo would die, he had him transported to La Rochelle where a surgeon was able to save him. The two then resumed the search for the missing Isabella and Odorico.

They found Odorico in Biscay, at the local king’s court. When Almonio had explained the man’s treachery to the king, he was given permission to deal with Odorico as he wished. Wanting to bring his prisoner to Zerbino for formal trial, Almonio and Corebo had set off in search of the Prince of Scotland. Now that they have found him and told the full story, Almonio calls on the prince to make his judgement.

Odorico then falls back on his previous trustworthy reputation, putting Zerbino in a difficult position. As he is pondering this, the evil old woman arrives on her horse, which galloped there with her hanging on for her life. They detain her, and Zerbino announces his penalty for Odorico, that he shall look after the old woman and be her faithful champion for the next year. The prince makes him swear to do that, then asks Almonio and Corebo to let their prisoner go. Within a day, Odorico has hung the woman from a tree, for which Almonio later hangs him in return.

Zerbino then waits three days for Mandricardo to return, searching for him all the time. With Isabella beside him, he comes across the lovers’ inscriptions made by Angelica and Medoro, and the cave in which they had made love. There they find Orlando’s armour, horse, and his sword Durindana, and wonder whether the paladin might have been killed. When they meet a shepherd who witnessed Orlando’s madness, they learn the terrible truth.

While they are gathering up Orlando’s belongings, a woman named Fiordiligi rides up in search of her partner Brandimarte, who had left the city gate many months ago. She is unaware that he was one of the knights who had been held prisoner in Atlante’s magic palace; when Astolfo blew his magic horn, Brandimarte had returned to Paris, but by this time Fiordiligi was travelling the country in quest of him.

Having gathered together Orlando’s weapons, Zerbino hangs them on a pine tree and inscribes on its trunk a warning that they are the paladin’s. Just as he is about to remount to ride away, Mandricardo arrives. After Zerbino explains what has happened, the Saracen takes Orlando’s sword in triumph. The prince tells him to leave it alone, and they quickly proceed to fight, Zerbino dodging Mandricardo’s swipes with Durindana. Despite the prince’s deft moves, the sword cuts him superficially down the front of his body. Although Zerbino fights back, his opponent then inflicts a series of further wounds.

Doralice, Mandricardo’s damsel, and Isabella plead with their knights to call a halt, to which they agree, and Isabella leads Zerbino away. Fiordiligi continues her search for her husband.

Zerbino still feels shame about Orlando’s sword, but is suffering badly from his wounds. He grows weaker until they stop by a stream where he speaks his last to Isabella and dies in her arms. She makes one last promise to him that she won’t kill herself with his sword, and will live out her natural life. The wailing and cries of her grief are then so loud that she disturbs a hermit, who comes to investigate. He comforts her, but won’t try taking her back to his cave for shelter, so takes her instead towards a convent close to Marseilles.

In the meantime, Mandricardo has been resting in the shade until Doralice announces to him that Rodomonte is approaching, intending to challenge him.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Mandricardo and Doralice see the Jealous Rodomonte Approaching (Canto 24:95) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Mandricardo has been looking forward to this, remounts his horse, and rides towards his adversary. The two knights hurl oaths at one another before their swords clash in a vicious battle. Mandricardo strikes a powerful blow to Rodomonte’s head, leaving him stunned and dangling from his saddle. Rodomonte springs back up and strikes his opponent similarly. A further blow kills Mandricardo’s horse.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Doralice is Distraught as the Rivals Fight Over her (Canto 24:100) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

As they resume their fight, an envoy arrives and informs them that King Agramante seeks the aid of all knights to rally to his cause. Doralice stands between them and brings their combat to a sudden halt, for them to answer the request which they cannot refuse. After calling a truce they ride away, Mandricardo on Orlando’s abandoned horse, which had been grazing nearby. On their way to serve Agramante, they rest in a meadow with a fountain, where they both can remove their helmets. A damsel then comes and sits beside them.

Ruggiero, who had just thrown his magic shield down a well, is also greeted by a messenger calling all Saracen knights to the aid of King Agramante, which puts him in a quandary. He makes his decision quickly: the lady wins, so he turns to head towards her. With the sun setting, he reaches a castle in central France which has recently fallen to ‘pagan’ forces. Making his way in to the central square, he sees a youth who is about to be executed in front of a large crowd.

When he sees the youth’s face, Ruggiero is convinced they are Bradamante, and supposes that she had tried to rescue the young man she knew was about to be burned at the stake, and had been captured. He resolves to rescue her, and swings his sword wildly at the crowd. He cuts a few heads off, and kills a few more with deft strokes of his blade. The youth is freed, and Ruggiero keeps the crowd at bay as they make their escape from the citadel.

Once free, the youth asks Ruggiero to whom he owes the honour, which puzzles the knight, who still assumes that this is Bradamante. All is then revealed: he has just rescued Bradamante’s brother, Ricciardetto, who looks so like her that they are often confused. The young man then explains that his sister had recently been wounded in the head by a Saracen, and her long hair was cut off by a hermit to stop the bleeding, so she now has close-cropped hair.

When Bradamante was resting to gather her strength after this injury, she fell asleep, and a young woman Fiordispina chanced upon her. She saw Bradamante in her armour, with short hair, armed as a man, and mistook her for a male knight. Fiordispina quickly burned with passion for this young knight, and stole a kiss. To this Bradamante thought that she’d better explain that she wasn’t a man, and how she’d been trained to fight and go on adventures. At this tragic news, Fiordispina grew increasingly distressed.

Guido Reni (1575–1642), Encounter of Bradamante and Fiordispina (c 1632-35), oil, dimensions not known, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

As it was then late in the day, the two headed for a nearby town, the same place from which Ricciardetto had just escaped. There, Fiordispina went to pains to show that Bradamante was a woman rather than a knight. The two took lodgings, in which they shared the same bed, driving Fiordispina into flights of fantasy in which Bradamante changed sex.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Fiordispina is Hopelessly in Love with Bradamante Even Though They Are Both Women (Canto 25:42) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

The time came for Bradamante to return home, and Fiordispina gave her a horse with gold trappings, and a fine surcoat. They each went their way, and Bradamante rode back to her mother at Montalbano. There her brother Ricciardetto decided to take advantage of Fiordispina’s desire for his sister, and rode off in search of the young woman, wearing the surcoat and mounted on the horse she had just given his sister.

When they met, Fiordispina kissed Ricciardetto immediately, assuming that he was Bradamante returned to her in love. She rushed him up to her room and removed his clothes before dressing him as a woman. She then took him down to dinner with many guests, after which Fiordispina invited him to sleep the night with her, still presuming him to be his sister.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Bradamante’s Brother Ricciardetto Gains Fiordispina’s Favours by Pretending That he is his Sister, Who has Experienced a Change of Sex (Canto 25:70) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

When they were alone together that night, Ricciardetto told Fiordispina a story in which he was Bradamante, but had changed gender. That occurred when he rescued a nymph from being eaten by a troll. As his reward, the nymph changed Bradamante into a man, and here he was. Fiordispina had got what she wished, and the two lived together as man and wife for several months, enjoying great pleasure, until her father the king heard about it – and it was the king’s anger which took him to the stake.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883), Ricciardetto’s Ruse if Finally Discovered (Canto 25:70) (c 1878), engraving, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

With the completion of Ricciardetto’s account of his affair and how it backfired, they reach the citadel of Agrismonte, which is surrounded by deep ravines.

Principal Characters

Angelica, beautiful daughter of the ruler of Cathay, who is loved and pursued by innumerable knights both Christian and not, and marries Medoro.

Astolfo, son of the King of England who is abducted by Alcina then turned into a myrtle bush.

Atlante, an evil magician who is in fact an old man, but abducts people to keep in his magic palace, where he tries to protect Ruggiero from his future.

Bradamante, Rinaldo’s sister, “the celebrated Maid”, a brave Christian knight who is the equal of her brother. She is loved by Ruggiero.

Doralice, daughter of the King of Granada, and Mandricardo’s damsel.

Fiordispina, a princess who falls in love with Bradamante.

Isabella, daughter of the King of Spain, who falls in love with Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland, and tries to elope to him.

Mandricardo, King of Tartary and son of Agricane, an ‘oriental’ pagan knight.

Medoro, one of Prince Dardinello’s Moorish soldiers, a ‘pagan’, who marries Angelica.

Odorico, a sea captain who had previously been loyal to Zerbino, and trustworthy, until he was entrusted with Isabelle

Orlando, the hero, Charlemagne’s nephew and his most outstanding paladin.

Ricciardetto, Bradamante’s brother, who appears identical to her.

Rodomonte, the African King of Sarza and Algiers, the son of Ulieno.

Ruggiero, son of the King of Reggio, a non-Christian knight who is in love with Bradamante.

Zerbino, son of the King of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish forces.

The artists

Daniel Berger (1744-1825) was a German engraver who was sufficiently eminent to be appointed professor of the Prussian Academy of Arts.

Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) was a Swiss symbolist and mythological painter who trained at the Düsseldorf Academy, and worked in Italy, Switzerland (Basel and Zurich), and Germany (Munich). I have recently written two articles about his symbolist paintings, and have also looked at his narrative works.

Gustave Doré (1832–1883) was the leading French illustrator of the nineteenth century, whose paintings are still relatively unknown. Having produced large sets of illustrations for classics such as Dante’s Divine Comedy earlier in his career, he started work on a set for Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso in the late 1870s, for publication in 1879. These are the last major illustrations which he made. This article looks at his paintings.

Guido Reni (1575–1642)was an Italian painter who trained in Bologna alongside Domenichino, then went to train with the Carraccis. He painted many frescoes and easel paintings of mythological and other narrative motifs, working in Rome, Naples and Bologna. One of the major artists of the Baroque period in Italy, he was a major influence on painting in Italy, France and Spain.


Wikipedia on Ariosto
Wikipedia on Orlando Furioso

Barbara Reynolds (translator) (1975, 1977) Orlando Furioso, parts 1 and 2, Penguin. ISBNs 978 0 140 44311 0, 978 0 140 44310 3. Verse translation with extensive introduction and notes.
Guido Waldman (translator) (1974) Orlando Furioso, Oxford World’s Classics. ISBN 978 0 19 954038 9. Prose translation.